Why did you doubt? (Walking on Water, part 2)

Some of you may recall a post I wrote more than 4 years ago, in which I described my extremely negative reaction when I began reading John Ortberg’s If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat. That post generated more comments (42, though mostly a discussion between a handful of people) than most.

I came across a post today in which someone interprets the passage much differently than Ortberg does:

Within this story, we see that the actions of Peter are not that of faith – instead they have a foundation of doubt. His actions are not commendable: rather, his actions were cause for rebuke. It was only Peter who questioned whether it was Jesus or not on the water. It was Peter who questioned Jesus, telling him that he didn’t believe it was him. It was Peter who said, you know what, “I’m not going to believe it is you, unless you tell me I can come to you and walk on water also.”

… The boat was the destination where Jesus was heading for all along. It was in the boat where Jesus intended to meet up with his disciples. It was Christs intent for them to travel to the other side of the lake in the boat. It was never his intention for them to get out of the boat. It was never his intention for them to walk on water. And the only place he intended for them to get out of the boat, was once they reached the shore of where he had told them to go in the first place.

The Apostle Paul gives us good advice about staying in our boat. He says to the Corinthian Church in 1 Cor 7:17

17 Nevertheless, each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them.

God never calls us to escape our boat. What ever situation we find ourselves in, this is where God has called us, and its where God has assigned us to live. And it is he, who will direct the course of our lives in him.

Good stuff. Read the whole post here. (But please don’t read something into his words that he isn’t actually saying. Read it to hear and listen and then weigh the words. I think one of the key points is that risk, even if we do see it as for God, is not in and of itself a virtue. Some of us may be called to something risky, but certainly not everyone and not always.)

5 thoughts on “Why did you doubt? (Walking on Water, part 2)

  1. Matthew Kent

    That is quite a different interpretation!

    “What ever situation we find ourselves in, this is where God has called us, and its where God has assigned us to live. And it is he, who will direct the course of our lives in him.”

    That immediately strikes me as unreasonably fatalistic deterministic, almost akin to the Hindu caste system, though perhaps that’s not what he meant.

    After reading the whole post, I do appreciate the angle he’s approaching it from, I just disagree with the way he dismisses what seems to be the most significant part of the story, which is Peter getting out and walking on the water. Jesus, in fact, DID call Peter…after Peter made the request, lol.

    In the end, perhaps it’s just another way of discovering the most profound aspect of this entire story, which is, in my opinion, that true faith is trusting wholeheartedly in God – not in our ideas or concepts but in the immediate and immanent Spirit that is always inviting us to follow – and stepping into the unknown, no matter how overwhelming the circumstances might be.

    Maybe the Spirit led Peter to call out to Jesus when he saw him? Jesus certainly didn’t rebuke him initially. It’s fascinating because there are so many interesting layers to this story and others like it.

    I’m glad that you posted this and it’s such a great topic to dig into more fully because it really reaches into the core of what it means to life by faith. What would absolutely surrendering one’s life to God really mean?

    I’d love to hear what you think about that:)

  2. Craig Benno

    Hi Matthew.

    While I understand your thinking the comment is rather fatalistic; perhaps your understanding of it in this way is because you have missed my intent and the framework in which it is written.

    Within the framework of Christian existence, there is much confusion and wrong thinking about the idea of ‘calling.’ God wants us to live for him, trusting him 24/7, for he is with us 24/7. Luther once wrote that there is no difference between the CALL on a milkmaid to be a cow milker and someone called to be a Pastor. Under God, both callings are equally valid, as it is God who has called them both into those positions.

    When we read the book of Acts we see that the majority of peeps are ministering within their environment. Home, work, play. Again within Acts, we read that the risks that are taken are taken under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.. who isn’t calling them to ‘get out of the boat’ – rather they are a normal continuation of their intimate walk with him.

    Total surrender to Christ, is doing what Christ asks us to do. The beatitudes are a great place to find out what complete surrender looks like.

  3. Matthew Kent

    Thanks for that clarification, Craig, I very much agree with what you’re saying.

    “Within the framework of Christian existence, there is much confusion and wrong thinking about the idea of ‘calling.’ God wants us to live for him, trusting him 24/7, for he is with us 24/7.”

    Completely agree.

    The reason I believe the ‘getting out of the boat’ picture is still so significant is partly because of what you’ve expressed, that it is considered to be representative of radical obedience, though I can also see how it is often (incorrectly) assumed to refer to specific callings, like being a pastor or missionary (or crime fighter), rather than relatively mundane callings, which may perhaps involve milking cows.

    That’s all relatively true, I believe, but the problem I see is that it’s missing this other dimension; total surrender to Christ was, is, and always will be radical no matter what the specifics end up being because it’s a completely different orientation to life.

    I think it’s great you’re approaching it from a new angle, trying to put some more pieces together, and I appreciate the discourse.

    Cheers!

  4. Toni

    Hi Marc, I’ve been thinking about this for some time, trying to find a non-combative way of commenting ;-)

    It seems to me that this thinking runs across several different sets of situations and circumstances, and blanket stay where you are/get out of the boat type comments aren’t helpful. Putting my pastoral hat on, I’d say that each one should find out where they are called and then walk in that calling, whether it’s building worker, housewife, secretary or pastor.

    It’s important to recognise that there will be times when there is no question but to step out of the situation. Paul talks about slaves trying to obtain their freedom if they can. Otherwise it becomes ridiculous: was someone in prostitution or drug dealing or living by crime when they were called? The answer is obvious that they can’t possibly stay in that boat.

    And so to the blog post of 4 years ago.

    My feeling is that, at that time God was already talking to you, maybe at an unconscious level, about what He had for you and how you’d need to step out of your nice secure and comfy boat. Who would have thought that in just over a year you would have sold your house, relocated hundreds of miles and started training for ‘ministry’? And so I very much wonder at the source of such a strong reaction to the challenge you read there, and whether it might have been a reaction to the shock of the calling God had and a chance to face and work through many of the things that were bound up in that call. To me, at least, your character as a blogger changed after that point, so too, I’d guess, did your thinking patterns.

    So here we are. Whatever the chap you linked to might suggest, it seems to me you quite clearly stepped out of a boat in answer to a call, found that the sea did support your weight and walked forward.

    Irony aside, nice going Marc.

  5. Marc

    Thanks, Toni. You are probably right, at least about my situation. That’s how I’ve been accounting for my reaction to the book–that something else was going on that I wasn’t conscious of at the time.

    It is really those blanket statements about getting out of the boat/one’s comfort zone that bother me. The “Ortbergian” interpretation seemed to imply that the disciples who stay in the boat have done something wrong or have a faith that is just a little bit off, as if they all should have done what Peter did, but as I recall, nothing in the text suggests anything of the kind. This then leads to the suggestion that every Christian must do something visibly unusual or extraordinary with their lives.

    And then people may try to force it. It’s true that Jesus didn’t call Peter out of the boat. Peter wanted that for himself and Jesus let him do it. What was Jesus’ intention there? I think it could be read a number of ways (but I’d have to go back to the text).

    I have little doubt that some–possibly all–have a specific call on their lives. The problem comes when it is assumed that what an individual is already doing is *not* their call. To the postman, grocer, businesswoman, janitor, we say, “Get out of your comfort zone! Look for your calling! Go be a missionary in Timbuktu!” Yet it may well be that it is their calling to be what they already are. The difference before and after conversion is one’s allegiance.

    So I’m not convinced that this passage should be used to support a universal principle applying to all people to “get out of their comfort zones.” I think it’s the story of one believer’s experience. I never did finish Ortberg’s book, so I should be careful what I say about it, but my hunch is that he’s stretched a few verses from scripture a little too far.

    Just some further thoughts. Hopefully mine don’t sound combative. :) I think we probably agree on this for the most part.

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